Tom Dixon and Creative Salvage


7 December 2012

Cut and Shut is a new book exploring the origins of Creative Salvage, the design movement pioneered by Tom Dixon in the 1980s. Here we publish a short excerpt from the book's interview with Dixon.

The book has been authored by the writer and furniture collector, Nick Wright and Gareth Williams, the head of Contemporary Art and Design at Bonhams. It explores the development of Creative Salvage, an ad-hoc 1980s design movement that prized elaborate ornamentation and the recycling of scrap material.

The movement was developed by the designers Tom Dixon, Mark Brazier Jones, Nick Jones and André Dubreuil. Creative Salvage grew out of Dixon and Nick Jones' band Funkapolitan, and their subsequent establishment of the London hip-hop club Language Lab.

Brazier Jones later encouraged the pair to organise parties in pirated buildings across London. Party decorations made from wrecked cars provided the idea to create furniture from scrap metal.

"There’s an energy and lack of editing there and that’s what made it exciting," says Wright. "Some of the pieces are total fuck ups, some of them are brilliant. That’s what happens when you’re stupid, young and naive and you smoke too much weed."

The group would go on to hold three exhibitions, as well as writing a manifesto explaining the aims of the movement

The book also includes an interview with Ron Arad, a designer who worked with salvaged material but who has strongly distanced himself from Creative Salvage.

Cut and Shut has been designed by Edward Vince from graphic design studio Vince & Son.

"I wanted to heavily reference the era that the movement had come from. It’s about DIY, scrap metal and cut and shut. So it’s on recycled paper, with a rough, open spine," says Vince. "Instead of doing it in the style of the 1980s, I’ve pulled in references from that period and brought it into contemporary time. Orange is quite relevant to rusting material and that period: the colour featured heavily in the output of Factory Records. It’s a vibrant but retro colour. "

Below is a fragment of Wright and Williams' interview with Dixon and the gallerist Lilliane Fawcett:

Gareth Williams What was the music scene like?

Tom Dixon At school there were a lot of West Indian kids so skinhead, ska, stuff like that. Then there was the hippie scene, rock, Deep Purple, Cream. We were in the area so punk was happening too. Everyone had a band, but by the time punk started I already knew how to play so that counted me out. The whole thing about punk was that you didn’t know how to play so I was evolving more towards disco stuff.

GW With Funkapolitan?

TD Yes. We got a following here. We played in a Wimpy Bar in Notting Hill Gate - which is now Marks and Spencer - and then we played at the roller disco in Hammersmith. We were popular in our backyard.

GW Didn’t you also support The Clash?

TD We went to New York in 1981. Hip hop was just starting and we played at Bonds International Discothèque. They took a different band out every two nights - upcoming bands in New York - but the people who went to see The Clash were American punks. Not like British punks and it was fucking scary. People would throw bottles at us. And then there were these black kids playing. It was sketchy, basically, but we saw the street culture emerging. The rapping wasn’t aggressive like it is now. People had single decks and would just recite poetry. It was quite cultural so we thought we’d bring that back to London. We got a Monday night at Meard Street above Gaz’s Rocking Blues. It was a strip club until 11 o’clock then we would go up with our speakers. It had a little theatre and the strippers would be going down as we were putting our stuff on.

Lilliane Fawcett How did you go from one [music] to the other [opening Language Lab]? Was it one day that you decided that the music was over? Suddenly you became aware that you wanted to become something else?

TD No. In the end the nightclub business was a matter of thinking up ridiculous ideas. It didn’t really involve a lot of work. I didn’t do the DJing (Nick Jones did), but I was on a promotional kind of cycle which I had learnt through music. We needed to transfer that to an event about actually making things. By then Mark (Brazier-Jones) was doing set designs. He had an arc welder and he taught me how to use that and I had another friend who had a garage. He taught me how to do gas welding and so I taught Mark that. At first we didn’t do anything more than get a few pieces of scrap metal and make some sculptures, but then we thought we should do it as a proper show. We came up with this idea of buying one ton of scrap, dropping it in the gallery and welding it in the window until the exhibition was opened at the end of the week. That was when we wrote a page about Creative Salvage.

NW In the [Creative Salvage] Manifesto you talk specifically about recycling and I had wondered how much of that is a rationalisation of what you do, or was it a real belief that stuff should be more ecological?

TD It seemed like a sensible proposition. I had been interested in green even at school. I did a project about alternative living, solar power, but I think it would be false to suggest that we were trying to create a proper movement. We were just doing a show.

GW But a lot of the early stuff was sculpture?

TD Mark’s was more art. Mine was always more lighting and chairs - even though they didn’t look much like chairs at the time.

LF They were sittable?

TD Just about. Perhaps illuminating?

NW So how much was the stuff a provocative gesture?

TD Well yes, it was the Thatcherite time. It was tough. There was a lot to be anti. As regards the furniture business, that was very much postmodernism and hi-tech. Habitat was very much modernist black and chrome, Mies van de Rohe, and then everything else was Laura Ashley. There was that very frou frou look so there were a lot of things to be anti.

NW Did you make money?

TD Not really. I used to charge about £15 to £25. André was much more conscious of the value of things because he had been an antique dealer. He knew what people would pay and he already had a clientele. For me it was just about getting enough money to make another piece. I didn’t do it for commerce. I did it for fun.

NW Did you want to be a designer by this time?

TD No. That didn’t exist for me. Industrial designers were working for big companies. Norman Foster would make a table for an Italian company. Kenneth Grange did instamatic product design, but there were other people who were doing stuff in other fields. Judy Blame was making jewellery, and Christopher Nemith was making clothing out of potato sacks, and then there was Andy the Furniture Maker. Ron Arad already owned a shop in Neal Street. He was at least two years before us, but I didn’t know about him until someone told me. That was the West End. It was like another country. But then I did a show at Ron’s shop. It was the first on my own, and it was the first time that I thought okay so there is an infrastructure.